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Wednesday 21 February 2018

Political crisis stems from murder of former IRA commander Gerard 'Jock' Davison

David Young

The roots of the political crisis that has swamped Stormont, prompting the Government to order an independent review of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, can be traced to the murder of well-known republican and former IRA commander Gerard ''Jock'' Davison in Belfast in May.

Here is a timeline of significant events over the last six months.

  • May 5 - Mr Davison, 47, is shot dead at Welsh Street in the nationalists Markets area of Belfast as he walked to work.
  • August 12 - Former IRA man Kevin McGuigan, 53, is gunned down close to his home in the Short Strand area of east Belfast. Mr McGuigan and Mr Davison had been embroiled in a long-running personal feud and he had been suspected by many within the republican community of involvement in May's murder. There is widespread speculation that Mr McGuigan was killed in a revenge attack carried out by Mr Davison's IRA associates.
  • August 13 - Stormont's First Minister and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson warns Sinn Fein it would face expulsion from the power-sharing Executive if the IRA was responsible for shooting Mr McGuigan. Sinn Fein vehemently rejects the suggestion of IRA involvement.
  • August 18 - Four men, including IRA Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, are arrested by detectives investigating the killing of Mr McGuigan.
  • August 20 - PSNI Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes says he believes Provisional IRA members were involved in the murder of Mr McGuigan alongside Action Against Drugs (AAD) - a group that includes former IRA members, dissident republicans and criminals. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams rejects allegations of IRA involvement in the shooting and insists they left the stage in 2005. One of the arrested men - Patrick John Fitzpatrick, 53, from the Lagmore area of Belfast - appears in court charged with possession of a weapon with intent to endanger life. The others detained were released.
  • August 22 - PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton says the IRA still exists, but is not on a ''war footing''. Following crunch talks with political figures at PSNI headquarters, Mr Hamilton says the IRA are committed to ''promoting peaceful political republicanism''. The police chief says he accepts Sinn Fein's bona fides.
  • August 24 - Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers says she is ''not surprised'' by police assessment that the IRA still exists, but says there is no evidence it is involved in terrorism.
  • August 26 - The Ulster Unionist Party - a minor partner in the Stormont coalition - announces its intention to resign from the Executive, claiming trust in Sinn Fein had been destroyed.
  • September 1 - DUP leader Mr Robinson meets Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss the crisis. The First Minister calls for a new monitoring body to be established to independently assess IRA activity. The UUP's sole Executive minister - Danny Kennedy - formally resigns.
  • September 3 - Mr Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny order new talks in a bid to resolve the McGuigan murder crisis and other disputes destabilising Stormont, such as the impasse on the implementation of welfare reforms. PSNI chief Mr Hamilton said he would support any new paramilitary monitoring body.
  • September 4 - The US administration urges Northern Ireland politicians to seize the opportunity presented by the new talks.
  • September 7 - As the Assembly returns from its summer recess, Mr Robinson says he will prevent any meetings of the Executive happening until the situation is addressed.
  • September 8 - Ms Villiers attempts to convene the cross-party negotiations but the UUP says it will only take part in discussions that focus on the IRA.
  • September 9 - Three senior republicans, including Sinn Fein's northern chairman Bobby Storey, are arrested in connection with the murder of Mr McGuigan. They bring to 16 the number arrested over the murder. Fitzpatrick remains the only person charged with any offence. In response to the latest arrests, the DUP threatens to resign from the Executive if the Assembly is not adjourned or suspended until the crisis is resolved. The Prime Minister appeals to Northern Ireland's political leaders to work together as they did during the peace process.
  • September 10 - The DUP bid to adjourn the Assembly is defeated after Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the UUP vote it down. In response, Mr Robinson announces he is to stand aside and three of his four Executive ministers are to resign with immediate effect. The DUP keeps finance minister Arlene Foster in post and also promotes her to acting First Minister in a bid to retain unionist influence in the floundering administration. The Government rejects the DUP call to suspend the institutions. After those political developments, Mr Storey and the two other republicans are released from custody without charge.
  • Days after resigning, the DUP ministers return to office for a number of hours, only to resign again. The controversial manoeuvre is repeated a number of times over the following weeks in order to prevent the portfolios being distributed to other parties. If a ministerial post is continuously vacant for seven days it is reallocated to another party.
  • September 18 - Amid unionist reluctance to join the crisis talks, Ms Villiers announces that an independent panel will be set up to assess paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. Unionists welcome the move and indicate a willingness to engage in the talks process.
  • September 22 - On the first day of negotiations, Martin McGuinness tells political rivals to "put up or shut up" in regard to evidence to support their allegations of Sinn Fein's links to criminality.
  • September 23 - Ms Villiers names Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile, retired senior Stormont civil servant Rosalie Flanagan and Northern Ireland-based QC Stephen Shaw as the three members of the independent panel to review paramilitary structures.
  • The talks, which are dealing with a range of budgetary disputes as well as the fallout from the murder, continue for the next number of weeks without substantive progress. Negotiations are effectively in a holding pattern until the report is published.
  • October 19 - Mr Robinson signals his party's willingness to fully re-engage with the Executive if he finds the report's findings acceptable. Meanwhile, a 47-year-old man is arrested in west Belfast in connection with the McGuigan murder.

Gerard 'Jock' Davison
Gerard 'Jock' Davison
Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison
Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison

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